Have you ever sat down to watch a football game, and found yourself unable to enjoy it due to constant frustration with your favorite team's poor decisions? That's exactly how I've felt about Hollywood (and its steady stream of big-budget disappointments) over the past year.
Blockbuster flops are a rising trend. Despite having the right mix of elements to succeed (eye-popping special effects, bankable stars, promising concepts, etc.), a large number of tentpoles –– most outside the live-action comic book spectrum –– have been tanking at the box office.
This barrage of flops irked me, because they shined a light on the fact that studios just don't know how to handle expectations. It's been one of Hollywood's biggest and most prevalent issues for a number of reasons.
The Entertainment Industry Is Unaware Of Many Brands' True Values
Time and time again, we've seen studios overestimate the popularity of their own properties. That leads them to invest enormous sums of money into films that don't really warrant big budgets, burdening them with immense expectations. Take #IndependenceDayResurgence, for example.
Independence Day was one of the biggest hits of the '90s, but after two decades, the franchise's popularity had passed, and audience interest in the universe had waned considerably. Despite those two warning signs, Fox had big hopes for a sequel, and it greenlit Resurgence with a $165 million budget. The project ultimately didn't live up to expectations, and it earned a mere $389 million worldwide — which sounds like a lot, until you factor in marketing costs.
There's also #BladeRunner2049. The original Blade Runner was a financial failure. Yes, it became a cult classic over time, but it never had a big reach outside of dedicated movie circles. Despite the franchise's niche audience and poor financial track record, however, 2049 was given a $155 million budget. Unsurprisingly, that didn't work either. Even with positive word-of-mouth, the sci-fi thriller earned a little over $240 million, an intake that, according to reports, could end up costing Alcon Entertainment an estimated $80 million.
The list of would-be blockbusters hurt by being burdened with unrealistic expectations is much longer, and it includes projects like #TerminatorGenisys (earned $440 million on a $155 million budget), 2015's Point Break remake (earned $133 million on a $105 million budget), Alice Through The Looking Glass (earned $299 million on a $170 million budget) and Valerian & The City of A Thousand Planets (earned $225 million on a $180 million budget). Again, when you factor in marketing costs, you're looking at a loss, or breaking even at best.
Too Many Sequels Are Greenlit Before The First Movie Even Hits Theaters
Even with so many mishaps, the industry seems keen on repeating the same mistakes. One of the most significant examples is the long-in-development Avatar franchise. The overwhelming success of #JamesCameron's 2009 sci-fi tale encouraged Fox to greenlight four sequels –– currently being shot back-to-back –– with a combined reported budget of $1 billion.
That strategy is a considerable risk because Avatar isn't a hot commodity. While the film was popular, a big part of what made it so successful was its use of new 3D filmmaking technologies. After its theatrical run, the property largely faded away from the pop culture collective. Right now, in a time where audiences have moved on from Pandora's mythology, and multiple effects-heavy films are released every year, the Avatar series is at a great disadvantage when it comes to finding success.
What makes these films even bigger gambles is the commitment attached to them. Ideally, a studio would release one movie and see how it performs before deciding how to move forward, but Fox doesn't have that luxury. By the time Avatar 2 comes out, the studio will have three other completed (and quite expensive) sequels ready to go, which will have to be released regardless of their predecessors' reception.
This is also a symptom of another bad habit that Hollywood needs to break.
Relying On Cinematic Universes Instead Of Solid Individual Movies
Following Marvel Studios' continuous success with the #MCU, "cinematic universe" became one of Hollywood's favorite terms. Nowadays, multiple studios scramble to put together their own shared franchises, and as a result, it's rare to find a blockbuster that doesn't come with the burden of setting up a larger, interconnected storyline.
Admittedly, the concept itself is promising. Having different projects existing together in one cohesive world is quite exciting and opens up a variety of storytelling possibilities. Here's the thing, though: most studios are leaning too heavily on that model, which isn't wise. It simply doesn't work for every brand, as proven by projects like 2017's The Mummy, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, and even Terminator: Genisys.
That's quite a long list, but these failed ventures aren't discouraging the industry. There are a slew of hopeful shared franchise-kickstarters currently in development, like #CallOfDuty, Ghostbusters 2, and Robin Hood.
What Can Be Done To Fix These Mistakes?
We've got two major issues in the movie industry, but the solutions to both are quite simple. When it comes to avoiding big-budget flops, it's important for studios to have a realistic outlook on their projects. Before moving forward with any given film, they need to ask themselves how much interest there is in the brand.
Going back to the examples I used above, realistically speaking, stories set in universes like those of Blade Runner, Independence Day or Valerian shouldn't take $200+ million to materialize. At the end of the day, spending a lot of money on a franchise with a niche or small audience isn't practical. These properties can thrive, but with more modest budgets that don't put such an overwhelming amount of pressure on their financial performances. One might argue that Guardians of the Galaxy wasn't a known brand until Marvel put it out there, but again, other studios aren't Marvel. Marvel has the backing of Disney and Disney can do things no other studio can.
As for the over-reliance on cinematic universes, the key thing with handling one is to not get ahead of yourself. There's nothing inherently wrong about having an overarching plan, but it's important to get a sense of the environment and build up the individual elements. Otherwise, those grand plans may never come to fruition at all.
The success of that cautious approach, has been proven by franchises like #TheConjuring (four films and counting) and Despicable Me (four movies with two more on the way). The minds behind these series chose to build them up slowly and get the lay of the land before developing future films. In a behind-the-scenes featurette included in Annabelle: Creation's home video release, for example, #JamesWan explained the thought process behind the Conjuring universe:
"Delving deeper into [Ed and Lorraine Warren's] world, one of the things we came across was the haunted artifact room. [We] said, '[Wouldn't] it be incredible if we could tell the stories of each of these haunted artifacts as their own standalone movies?' [...] 'And at some point, if we're successful and lucky enough, we can spinoff all the different stories, opening up a much bigger world.'"
The key part in that statement is "if we're successful." Yes, it took some time to build that universe, but it's currently thriving with no signs of stopping.
So, with all that being said, will studios change their approach to business in the near future and finally learn to manage expectations? As shown with all the upcoming projects coming our way in the next few years built on the same flawed approaches, I wouldn't bet on it. For the sake of the movie industry as a whole, which has been suffering quite a bit, there will hopefully be a time when Hollywood truly sees where it's gone wrong and fixes its ways.
Are there any particular movies you knew wouldn't be successful before they hit theaters? Let me know in the comments!